The Great East Japan Earthquake on 11th March 2011 and the subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant disaster caused radioactive contamination in the surrounding environment. In the immediate aftermath of the accident the Government of Japan placed strict measures on radio-contamination of food, and enhanced radio-contamination monitoring activities. Japan is a pilot country in the WHO Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG), and through this initiative has an opportunity to report on policy affecting chemicals and toxins in the food distribution network. Nuclear accidents are extremely rare, and a policy situation analysis of the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident is a responsibility of Japanese scientists. This study aims to assess Japan government policies to reduce radio-contamination risk and to identify strategies to strengthen food policies to ensure the best possible response to possible future radiation accidents.
We conducted a hand search of all publicly available policy documents issued by the Cabinet Office, the Food Safety Commission, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery (MAFF) and prefectural governments concerning food safety standards and changes to radiation and contamination standards since March 11th, 2011. We extracted information on food shipment and sales restrictions, allowable radio-contamination limits, monitoring activities and monitoring results. The standard for allowable radioactive cesium (Cs-134 and Cs-137) of 100 Bq/Kg in general food, 50 Bq/Kg in infant formula and all milk products, and 10 Bq/Kg in drinking water was enforced from April 2012 under the Food Sanitation Law, although a provisional standard on radio-contamination had been applied since the nuclear accident. Restrictions on the commercial sale and distribution of specific meat, vegetable and fish products were released for areas at risk of radioactive contamination. Monitoring of radioactive materials in food products in the prefectures has been mainly conducted before shipment to restrict the distribution of radio-contaminated foods. Between March 2011 and March 2012, 133,832 tests of non-commercial and commercial products were conducted, and 1,204 tests (0.9%) were found to violate the provisional standards. Since April 2012, 278,275 tests were conducted, and 2,372 tests (0.9%) were found to violate the revised standards. MHLW assessment of representative market baskets of foodstuffs at 15 locations throughout Japan between February and March 2014 found very low estimated dietary intake of radioactive cesium (0.0007–0.019 mSv/year), as did assessments of the contents of an average day’s food. Monitoring of fisheries products in coastal areas affected by the nuclear accident found very limited and declining radio-contamination of live fish outside of Fukushima prefecture. Fisheries monitoring is of limited geographical scope and covers only certain fishes.
Area-specific bans on production and distribution have been effective in preventing radioactive contamination in the Japanese food market. Currently there is no major concern about radioactive cesium concentrations in retail foodstuffs in Japan, and very low levels of contamination at the production and wholesale stage. However, because the residue limits and food safety policies were revised on an ad hoc, emergency basis after the nuclear accident, the monitoring procedure needs to be reviewed based on objective and scientifically rational criteria. A transparent and objective scientific framework is needed for prioritizing foodstuffs for inspection and revising Prefecture-specific restrictions. Monitoring of fishes and other seafood products in the wild should be regularized and the information made more publicly accessible, and monitoring activities expanded to identify foodstuffs that are no longer a food safety risk. Consultation with producers and consumers should be more formalized to ensure their concerns are incorporated into regular policy reviews in an appropriate and transparent manner. However, despite the limited available knowledge on best practice in food control and enforcement of provisional radio-contamination limits after the accident, current Japanese policy is sufficient to protect the Japanese public from major risk of radio-contamination from the commercial food market.